One of the most challenging things for startups is to acquire the first users and make people notice and care about their offering. If you read TechCrunch, you probably assume that most startups evaporate after raising seed or A rounds, unless they become the “lucky few” brand names referenced as a poster child for their vertical: Geo-Location (Foursuqare), social rides (Uber), file sharing (Dropbox), etc.

There are however, many clever ways to acquire users in the early stages, when your startup has no brand recognition.  In the post, “Introduction to Growth Hacking for startups” we went through the basics of these techniques. Below are a few examples of startups that use Growth Hacking to get their word out and bring new users to their service.

1) Pay with a Tweet

This is a brilliant way to give away a free product. Typically, users are requested to give their email address when downloading a whitepaper or a free doc. The email is used to later market other paid offers to the user in the hopes that eventually they will convert to a paid customer. StartupPlays took it up a notch with “Pay with a Tweet” – from 1:1 communication (user’s email) the marketing becomes 1:many (“check out this product!”). If nothing else, it helps SatrtupPlays gather more Twitter followers and increase their online influence.

Steve Blank Free course – Pay with a Tweet

2) Colonize a college – Physical marketing and online referrals with CampusCred

CampusCred is a Ycombinator alumni. They weren’t the first ones to offer Daily Deals, competing with Groupon, Living Social and a bunch of other clones, but they understood how to market to college students. First CampusCred focused on physical offline marketing to get the word out in colleges. From the book “Inside the Launch Pad“:

“The CampusCreds have found that offering students shot glasses with the CampusCred logo imprinted on the the bottom is a popular promotion. The company also “partnered” with Greed houses that were willing, for a donation, to drape a large CampusCred banner outside”

But they were also clever in how they ran online referrals, to reduce the cost of acquiring new users. As shown in the screenshot below, CampusCred offers paying customers the chance to get their next deal for free by blasting all their Facebook friends and getting four more friends to purchase. At a minimum, why not post the CampusCred deal on your wall and get a discount? This again, demonstrates the power of referrals and 1:many communication once the startup acquired a single user. I highly recommend the book “The Referral Engine” for more tips and tools on referral and word of mouth marketing.

CampusCred's Referral scheme

CampusCred’s Referral scheme

3) Signature, sign post and tattoo your product name – Apple, Buffer

“Sent from my iPhone” is a classic example of simple branding through default settings, that gave Apple millions of impressions and free advertising into the inboxes of email recipients.

 "Sent from my iPhone" - The Power of Default Settings

“Sent from my iPhone” – The Power of Default Settings

Another startup taking a page from this book is Buffer, a social sharing startup. Buffer lets users add any link to a queue, and then automatically share it across the social profiles enabled by the user and provide analytics around the engagement with the links.  The founders probably guessed that users wouldn’t enable a “shared by Buffer” option in their tweets, but they wouldn’t mid if the links were shortened to allow longer messages and better analytics. does exactly that. Simple, yet effective.

These are just a few examples of simple growth hacks. If any of these techniques work though, your startup won’t just grow linearly, but hopefully get the hockey stick growth that so many aspire for.

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Eze Vidra

Head of Google for Entrepreneurs Europe and Campus London at Google
Eze is the Head of Google for Entrepreneurs Europe and Campus London. In 2005, he started VC Cafe to shine a spotlight on startups and Venture Capital in Israel, and in 2012, Eze founded Techbikers, a non-for-profit that supports education through cycling challenges for techies.
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  • James McBennett

    Nice post Eze, trying to learn as much as possible on ‘growth hacking’ at moment…

  • TomTomTom2

    Pay with a Tweet is also a tool to embed.. 

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